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Anasy plans to set up documentary production academy

The filming of Northern Wind episode in progress in Khor-Fakkhan. Documentaries in the region are still being debated as non-profitable ventures. (EB FILE)

By Dima Hamadeh

The Anasy Documentary Awards is planning to establish an academy for documentary production and a specialised screening venue within the next three editions of the event, said Dhekra Ouali, Director of the awards.

The biennial awards ceremony aims to create an audience for documentaries as a form of cinema, and develop a taste for this type of productions in the UAE and the region, said Nizar Andary, head of the selection committee.

He said: "The lack of viable funds to create this type of high-quality documentary work is a valid critique, but creating the audience that will later mobilise the demand for such documentaries is the starting point."

He spoke in response to scepticism resulting from declining demand for documentaries in favour of entertainment productions and the scarcity of specialised TV stations that are interested in commissioning non-commercial documentary productions.

Documentaries in the region are still being debated as non-profitable ventures, especially with the lack of the pay-TV model from which international specialised documentary channels such as National Geographic benefit.

Andary said: "There are a few TV stations that provide a good platform for documentaries such as Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and New TV in Lebanon, but those production are often more commercial and propagandist. There are very few Michael Moors in this region."

He added: "However, I think the market for such productions is growing. Even with demand for entertainment overshadowing documentaries, I believe there is still space for genre and an audience that would prefer it."

"We are not alien to those challenges," said Ouali. "We realise that documentary productions are governed by market demand, and therefore the awards pay much attention to the attractiveness of the ideas presented. However, our strategy is to encourage film-makers to focus on the classical documentary model, which are currently being replaced by reportage-type documentaries."

Ouali added: "Film-makers in the Middle East face difficulties trying to produce that genre of high-quality documentaries because nobody believes in them. Therefore, the evaluation of the films will take into consideration, both the artistic values and the attractiveness of the idea and the execution."

Meanwhile, Anasy Documentary Awards has offered a Grand prize for the first winner worth Dh500,000. Ouali said: "We are quite aware of the need to ensure that the winning film-makers will continue to have the ability to produce top-quality work. Therefore, we have decided to split the prize, with half cash and the second half in the form of support for documentary production provided by Twofour54 in abu Dhabi."

Ouali said Dh250,000 were enough to produce three documentaries.

Speaking of other challenges, Andary said the difficulties facing documentaries in the Arab World were not related to the lack of archival resources and data, but rather the absence of the processes. "We do have a number institutions with good archival material, it is just the way to find them and handle them that currently forms the bigger challenge."

Andary agreed that documentaries were difficult to fund, but he said documentary film festivals played a substitute role in marketing productions.

According to him, a film festival is not only a convention for the professional. "With our cluttered broadcast spectrum of more than 300 TV channels in the Arab World, festivals become more of an event to be remembered, they rather become a community for film lovers."

He said: "Anasy festival has taken up a different concept. Our focus will be spread in our attempt to attract both high-profile professionals in the field and the regular audience. To that effect, the festival has decided to screen documentaries in Mall of the Emirates Community Theatre, and in various other places outside the main cities. We want everybody to watch documentaries."

Andary said: "Documentaries can spark a conversation on various current issues, and there are several types of documentaries that are not the boring conventional idea of a documentary."

However, Anasy Documentary Awards does not solely attract Arab film-makers. The second edition has already received entries from the US, Germany and Japan.

Ouali said: "The Arab World still needs to grow in this field; yet, it's not a matter of increasing the level of our event that we attract foreign entries. It is rather a platform for interaction among film-makers, and an opportunity for them to share their experiences and learn."


The Anasy Documentary Awards announced three of the six jury members for the 2010 edition to be held in April.

Dhekra Ouali, Director of the awards, said the confirmed jury members will be Michael Lumpkin, Executive Director of International Documentary Association, Jasmina Bojic, Founder and Executive Director of United Nations Association Film Festival and Omar Amiralai, Syiran documentary director.

One-minute films by Children

The second edition of the documentary festival will feature a special category for one-minute documentary films to be produced by children.

Dhekra Ouali, Director of Anasy Documentary Awards, said the category is supported by Unicef and will be preceded by a five-day workshop to train children between the ages of 12 and 18 years.

"Children are usually very difficult to be placed in drama, because they are more inclined towards real observation," said Ouali.

"The Arab World is short on documentary films that deal with issues related to children and their rights. Most of the works currently available are foreign and are adapted or dubbed into Arabic", she said.

Ouali added: "The workshop will include brainstorming and training on script writing, production and post-production."


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